Friday, December 11, 2009

No Bail for LAPD Detective Accused of Murdering Ex-Boyfriends Wife nearly 24 Years Ago, by Bail Bondsman in Los Angeles

Los Angeles - A veteran Los Angeles police detective was ordered today to stand trial for murder in the shooting death of her ex-boyfriend's wife more than 23 years ago in Van Nuys.

Stephanie Ilene Lazarus, 49, is accused in the Feb. 24, 1986, slaying of 29-year-old Sherri Rasmussen, a Glendale Adventist Medical Center nursing supervisor who was shot three times in the chest at her Balboa Boulevard townhouse.

Police initially thought the death may have been related to some nearby burglaries, although Rasmussen's husband, John Ruetten, told police at the time they should talk to his ex-girlfriend -- Lazarus -- who had been a police officer for two years.

But the case went cold until 2004, when the coroner was asked to retest DNA from a bite mark on the victim, and when the test was finally conducted, it was determined the DNA belonged to a female.

Lazarus remained on the force for 25 years -- assigned to the LAPD's art theft unit -- until she was arrested and charged in June, and ordered the following month to provide a dental impression that could be compared to the bite mark on the victim's arm.

An LAPD criminalist who examined a DNA sample from Lazarus and DNA from the bite mark on the victim's arm testified Wednesday that they matched.

The combination of those genetic markers is found in one in 402 quadrillion people, criminalist Jennifer Butterworth told the judge.

Under cross-examination, she acknowledged the tube containing the genetic material was inside an envelope that was torn and later re-packaged inside a larger envelope and that the tube didn't contain a security seal.

The hearing -- which lasted just over three days -- also included testimony from a Los Angeles police detective who said the victim's husband had made it "very clear" to police that he thought they should talk to Lazarus.

Nuttall testified that Ruetten said he became "very good friends" with Lazarus when they lived in the same dorm at UCLA, and that "the relationship had become fully intimate" after college.

According to the detective, Ruetten said that after Lazarus found out in June 1985 that he had gotten engaged to Rasmussen, she went to see him, declared her love for him and they had sex.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry ruled that prosecutors presented "ample" evidence to support the murder charge, along with sufficient evidence that she personally used a firearm in the commission of the crime.

But the judge determined that there was insufficient evidence to support two special circumstance allegations -- murder while lying in wait and murder during the commission of a burglary, that would have made Lazarus eligible for the death sentence if convicted.

Prosecutors have not yet decided if they will re-file those allegations. Without the, the murder charge and gun use allegation carry a maximum 27-year- to-life term, according to Deputy District Attorney Shelly Baron Torrealba.

In arguing there was enough evidence on the lying in wait allegation, the prosecutor told the judge that Lazarus must have "watched and waited" for a time when Rasmussen's husband would be away from home. He noted that Lazarus wrote in a 1985 journal entry that she had watched John Ruetten's car for at least a half-hour on one occasion.

The prosecutor also contended that Lazarus tried to bind the victim and that Rasmussen resisted, and that Lazarus realized she might be suspected in the woman's death so she pulled out a drawer in an effort to mislead investigators into believing the crime involved a burglary that went wrong.

Lazarus' attorney, Mark Overland, countered that the prosecution had not proven the special circumstance allegations, saying he did not think there was any evidence to support lying in wait.

Lazarus has been jailed without bail since her arrest, but Overland told the judge that he plans to ask that bail be set at a Dec. 18 hearing at which Lazarus is to be arraigned.

Outside court, he said he hadn't decide what bail amount to request for Lazarus, but told reporters that the bail schedule is $1 million for a murder charge.

(Above) Lazarus in uniform prior to arrest (Right)
Lazarus in court in Los Angeles

As stated above Lazarus has no bail and remains in custody in the L.A. County Jail facility in Lynwood. We will update the story as it changes relating to the bail process.

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UPDATE 12-18-09 Los Angeles Superior Court

The judge in the Lazarus' case has set the bail to $10-million for the LAPD detective who is accused of murdering ex-boyfriends wife.

The unusually high amount, which Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry compounded, Lazarus' attorney said, by requiring it to be presented in cash, sent a wave of gasps through the courtroom. Lazarus showed a rare sign of emotion as her head fell in disappointment.

Her attorney, Mark Overland, said his client had no way to amass the money – meaning she will remain in detention until her trial, which is not likely to open for several months.

As they have throughout the trial proceedings, the parents of the victim, Sherri Rae Rasmussen, sat stoically in the courtroom.

The amount was double what prosecutors had requested and far greater than the $300,000 to $500,000 Overland had sought.

In leading up to his decision, Perry summarized the reasoning behind his decision. Calling it “an admittedly unusual case,” he said prosecutors had presented “compelling evidence” at a preliminary hearing that spoke to Lazarus’ “motive, means, opportunity and identity.”

He acknowledged that Lazarus, if freed on bail, would have access to weapons through her husband, who is also an LAPD detective, and could be a risk to herself and others. The most pressing issue for Perry, however, was the “strong incentive,” he concluded, that Lazarus has to flee and the likelihood she would in fact do so.

The usually even-keeled Overland reacted with dismay afterward, saying he interpreted Perry’s decision as a de facto denial of bail and plans to appeal the amount.

“It’s ridiculous. Phil Spector gets $1 million bail? Robert Blake get’s $1 million bail? They’ve got the money to go anywhere,” he said, referring to the celebrity music producer and actor recently tried on murder charges. “Who has $10 million cash? It is basically preventative detention.”

Perry “does not know the case,” Overland said, reacting to the judge’s forceful comments about Lazarus and the evidence against her. “He’s only seen bits of it.”

Sherri Rae Rasmussen, 29, was killed in her Van Nuys condominium Feb. 24, 1986. The original investigators on the case were convinced that Rasmussen had been killed by a pair of men who were burglarizing the home. Detectives concluded that was wrong when they reopened the case early this year and DNA tests on the saliva showed that it belonged to a woman.

They retraced the investigation, once again interviewing Rasmussen's parents and her husband, John Ruetten. As they had at the time of the killing, the family and Ruetten told investigators about Lazarus, whom Ruetten had dated for several years before meeting Rasmussen.

Bail is normally set by a bail schedule created by the county courts system, the judge does have the authority
to raise or lower the bail. The judge brings several factors into their decision on whether bail should be raised, lowered, or even denied; the defense attorney also does have the ability to appeal at a later time.

For information on jails and courts throughout Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties please visit

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